Bear Smart We are to blame when food, trash attract bears

Courtesy of Bryan Peterson

If bears can dine on trash, they will be regular visitors to our neighborhoods.

The book, The Black Grizzly of Whiskey Creek, tells the cautionary tale set in Banff, Alberta, during the late 1970s and the community’s refusal to address the trash containers that black bears fed from nightly.

Eventually, a grizzly set up shop and mauled several residents – one fatally, the others were seriously injured.

Granted, we don’t have grizzlies here, but unsecured trash and bears we have in abundance. And in mixing the two, the potential for something unfortunate happening is ever present.

Indeed, during Labor Day weekend, a bear killed someone’s pet, a miniature horse, in an outlying subdivision. Writing this off as a bear being a wild animal alone is far too simplified. A host of factors, including our own failures, lead to incidents such as this occurring. As author Edward Abbey once said, “Some of the things I’m going to say tonight might be construed as critical.”

To many, the message that we have bears hanging around in large part because we’re feeding them has fallen on deaf ears. Had it been me who lost a pet – and noting the number of bird feeders, unsecured trash cans and more left out in my neighborhood, I’d likely have a new take on my neighbors. And I’d ponder what role their carelessness – or selfishness – played in my loss.

I’d have wished that they had reported human foods left out, in essence bear bait, to the proper authorities. Not doing so allows the attractants to remain unresolved, providing the resource and reason for bears to dally in residential areas.

Then again, there’s little use in residents reporting attractants if not acted upon. I’d have wished that enforcement of current ordinances designed to limit the amount of trash available to bears was consistent, or even existent. I’d have wished that these ordinances weren’t reliant on having residents calling in reports to be effective.

I’d have wished that my neighbors had made wildlife officials aware of any aggressive or potentially dangerous bear. Perhaps doing so just might have caught a problem bear in time, preventing my loss.

Many residents are doing everything right and should be commended for doing their part in not luring bears into, and keeping bears in, residential areas.

Many understand that removing attractants greatly decreases the chances of something unfortunate happening – for example, a bear trying to rip its way into a home or worse. The rub is getting those unaware – who don’t care or are in position to affect the most change – to care. If it were my pet, this is what I’d have wished for.

bp@frontier.net. Bryan Peterson is director of Bear Smart Durango, formed in 2003 to educate residents about coexisting with bears. Visit www.bearsmartdurango.org or follow on Facebook.

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